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Canadian midfielder Bernier returns to Impact

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The Canadian Press
12/19/2011 1:21:37 PM
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MONTREAL -- Signing Patrice Bernier may be the best marketing move the Montreal Impact have made for their entry into Major League Soccer, but they hope he'll be a bigger help on the field.

The 32-year-old Bernier returned to the club that gave him his pro start when he left Danish Superliga side Lyngby Boldklub to sign with the Impact on Monday.

The defensive midfielder, who has played 47 times for the Canadian national team, is expected to be part of the Impact's leadership group when it makes the jump to MLS from the second-tier NASL next season.

And he is the first bilingual, local product to sign for 2012 and the second Canadian along with goalkeeper Greg Sutton. Sporting director Nick De Santis called him one of the best players in Quebec soccer history.

"What counts for me is on the pitch," Bernier said at a news conference at the team's new downtown offices. "It's great to be back home, but the fact that the coach has a role for me here was important because I didn't want to come back just because I'm a local boy."

Bernier grew up and learned his soccer in Brossard, Que., across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal and played for the Impact in the defunct A-League from 2000 to 2002.

Then he spent nine years in Europe, playing in Norway, for Kaiserlautern in second division in Germany, and in Denmark.

De Santis and team president Joey Saputo said coach Jesse Marsch was under no pressure to sign homegrown talent, but the double effect of a strong player who brings a local flavour made Bernier a natural choice.

Marsch, an American, even introduced his new midfielder to the media in French.

"I knew the importance of having a guy like Patrice soccer-wise, along with the importance community-wise," said Marsch. "It's a good mix.

"He's a very smart player. He's a good passer. He's mobile and competitive. He'll help us without the ball and with the ball."

Marsch sees Bernier as one of his key players, along with veterans like former Kansas City midfielder Davy Arnaud, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and Columbian defender Nelson Rivas.

Details of Bernier's contract were not announced, but he is not a Designated Player, or one who is paid more than the maximum under the league salary cap.

Saputo is leaving the door open for a high-profile signing, but he threw cold water on speculation they would sign 38-year-old former Inter Milan defender Marco Materazzi, who may be best known for being head-butted by French superstar Zinedine Zidane during the 2006 World Cup final. Materazzi is reportedly looking at a move to MLS.

"I can tell you Materazzi is not one of the players we went after, but there were a lot of players we've been speaking to," said Saputo, adding the team has had contacts with Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero and former Juventus star David Trezeguet and met with Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka, who signed with a Chinese club.

All three are aging European stars.

"I've given Jesse the option that if there's a DP available that he feels fits the organization, we'll take a look at him," Saputo added. "It's got to be a player who wants to be here, who understands his role in our organization; to help the development of our young kids also.

"It's got to be done for the right reasons, but we're still looking for a DP."

Bernier said he will have to readjust to North American soccer, where teams tend to bomb the ball down the field.

"Europe is much more tactical, strategic kind of game," he said. "North America is more north-south.

"People want to be entertained, have goal chances, so the style of play is more open going forward, which I like in some ways. The European style is more balanced, finding the right time to attack.

"I can see MLS has improved. There are a lot more European players coming over. But it's going to be a different league and a different challenge. I knew it before, playing in the A-League for the Impact, but my soccer DNA has changed being in Europe for the last decade. I'll have to get re-accustomed."

Marsch travelled to Denmark in September to talk to Bernier and watch him play.

"There are little adjustments he can make pretty easily," said Marsch. "I played the same position.

"He's already equipped with so many of the tools to be a good player in that spot, but I've also told him I know I can make him better. I'll push him every day so he can establish himself as a great player here and in this league."

It took several meetings to get a contract signed and Bernier used that time to consult with national team coach Stephen Hart and players like Dwayne de Rosario and Julian de Guzman to get a feel for the level of play and the life in MLS.

Bernier said some other clubs showed interest, including the Vancouver Whitecaps, but Montreal made the only firm offer.

The Danish league is on its winter break and Bernier had an out-clause in his contract. Marsch said no transfer fee was paid.

Now Bernier's looking forward to the team's home opener March 17 at Olympic Stadium, where the Impact will play until work to enlarge Saputo Stadium to 20,000 seats in completed.

Patrice Bernier (Photo: Montreal Impact)

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(Photo: Montreal Impact)
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